By: Jackson Hogen
Published: August 26, 2019
The annual rite of spring known as America’s Best Bootfitters Boot Test attracts some of the world’s top product development talent. Last year I was third fiddle in a conversation between two very highly regarded members of this elite talent pool. I don’t know how the conversation veered into ski test results, but that’s what was being batted about when the following exchange occurred. (I won’t use quotes as I’m culling the gist from the mist of memory.)
It’s annoying to see models that sell for over a grand at the top of the rankings. If I had the same budget, I could make one hell of a ski, too.
We’re always happy when we see one of our models rated higher than one we know cost a lot more to make. It makes us feel good.
Here were the top representatives from two brands following very different design arcs, yet both were in total agreement that brands that spend disproportionately have an inherent advantage in head-to-head evaluations. On the other hand, any ski that cracks the top of a rating system without this out-of-the-gate advantage offers a great value for the consumer.
The Realskiers.com Value Rating Icon.
And thus was born the Realskiers.com Value Rating System. As Ross Perot used to say, “It’s pretty simple stuff.” Divide the model’s total score by its street price: the higher the number, the better the deal. I converted the numbers into four discrete groups represented by a simple dial icon.
What the numbers show shouldn’t shock anyone who has closely examined how skis are priced at retail. Most models fall into the “No Big Deal” mainstream, with the best skis priced within pennies of one another. Comparable models naturally coalesce around comparable prices.
A few models in every important category are deliberately priced below the mean of the market, with a derivative design that costs less to make. These earn a “Big Deal!” icon.
Every year there are a handful of models that ski shockingly well considering their construction costs. These rare jewels are identified by a “Super Deal!” symbol. Super Deals tend to be either an aggressive move to seize market share or simply a pricing mistake that’s often corrected the following year.
At the other end of the value spectrum are the unabashed premium models that cost more to buy because they cost more to make. You don’t buy one of these skis if cost is your primary concern, period. We classify these luxury rides with a Realskiers Value Rating of “Yikes!”
Allow me back up a step and illuminate a point I glided over, the passing mention of “street price,” more commonly referred to as the Minimum Advertised Price, or MAP. This is the price you are most likely to pay anywhere but those outposts that feel immune to the Internet. (This territory is shrinking faster than the Brazilian rainforest, but that’s another story.)
MAP pricing was created as a type of safety net, a way to keep cutthroat discounting by chains from eviscerating specialty retail. Since it has become a nearly universal practice, however, the retail landscape has shifted dramatically. Chains like Herman’s, Wolfe’s, Gart’s, Cook’s, Sunset, Ski Chalet and Sports Authority have slipped beneath the waves.
The big chains, that MAP pricing was intended to rein in, were never able to decimate the ranks of small specialty shops the way the Internet has, nor did they have the same leveling effect on price. In the brave new world where bottom-dwelling web pricing dominates search, MAP pricing serves less as a leaky basement than it does a hard ceiling, one floor below the unoccupied suite of MSRP.
The reason I prattle on about street price is because it’s used in the Realskiers Value Rating in lieu of MSRP, which is the only price we publish. We don’t publish the MAP, although the Value Rating reflects it.
As I poured over reams of pricing data to identify coherent clusters, I was reminded of another point that came up in the conversation referenced in the opening paragraph. One of the product gurus had recently uncovered a dusty price list from the early aughties; except for the model names, it could have been issued yesterday. Ski prices, despite the public perception that they’ve inflated faster than Venezuelan currency, have barely budged in close to two decades.
Betcha can’t name another consumer product category that can make the same claim. In this sense, all 2020 skis are a good deal.